Everyone has used pronouns before, probably without even realizing the importance it holds, but what are they exactly? Gender Pronouns are the way in which a person prefers to be addressed. For example, my pronouns are She/Her/Hers, whereas other individuals’ pronoun’s may be They/Them/Theirs, He/Him/His, Ze/Zir/Zirs, and Ve/Vis/Ver just to name a few. Often, when referring to another person we assume their pronouns and these assumptions can be more hurtful than helpful if assumed incorrectly. The best practice is to always ask someone if you’re unsure of their pronouns before assuming what they are.
Why are they important?
Pronouns are extremely important in terms of fostering inclusivity as you don’t want to promote the social oppression of any group of people. Assuming someone’s pronouns can reestablish the negative social construct that you have to present yourself in a certain way to be seen or addressed a certain way.
We as a society need to learn to stop assuming an individual’s pronouns based on their outer appearance. ‘Feminine’ presenting individuals aren’t always She/Her, just as ‘Masculine’ presenting individuals aren‘t always He/Him. it’s imperative that you ask and confirm every individual’s pronouns before referring to them incorrectly. This can not only be unintentionally disrespectful, but it can also be extremely triggering for the person who is being misgendered. Transgender, gender non-confirming, and non-binary people should be allowed to exist in the same spaces without fear of being misgendered.
How can I be respectful of one’s pronouns?
The simplest way to be both respectful and inclusive is to ask someone what their pronouns are. You may refer to individuals as “they” if you are unsure of their pronouns or until they have confirmed their pronouns to you. You can encourage employees and individuals within the company to add their pronouns to email signatures so there’s less confusion. Though we work to create a welcoming and inclusive space for everyone, the hard truth is we aren’t there yet, and a lot of people are still closed minded. Due to this many people may use different pronouns in different settings such as work or school. You can always ask a person what their pronouns are and when is the appropriate time to use them if you work closely with them in different settings.
What if I accidentally use the wrong pronoun?
Mistakes happen, and it’s ok as long as you promptly correct yourself. Despite your best efforts to remember everyone’s pronouns you may stumble and call someone by the wrong one. In this instance you’d want to apologize immediately, correct yourself and then simply carry on. The main thing not to do in this scenario is draw extra attention to the person by over apologizing, no matter how bad you may feel. This can turn a simple interaction into a very awkward one and draw unwanted attention to this person which they may not want, especially if they’ve confided in you with different pronouns than what everyone else uses for them. This is especially important if this person isn’t present to defend or speak up for themselves. For example, you may be having a conversation with a coworker about someone and your coworker misgenders this person by using the wrong pronouns, before you correct them think about if this person would want them to be corrected and for their true pronouns to be revealed.
Being that pronouns are such an integral part of how we communicate as humans, we have to get better at acknowledging them and unlearning the ways in which we have unknowingly been contributing to social oppression. Here’s a challenge for you all: Go out and find someone new, strike up a conversation and ask them what their pronouns are. It’ll get you into the habit of making it a regular occurrence when meeting new people.